IRVINE, CA – Kia Motors Corp. likely will add a second model at its West Point, GA, plant one year after production of the Sorento SUV begins, a Kia Motors America official says.

Senior executives in South Korea still are “hedging” on what the second model will be, but the facility’s assembly line is being built with enough flexibility that management can wait to make a decision, spokesman Alex Fedorak tells Ward’s at a media event here.

“In light of current market conditions, they are reevaluating what that second (model) is going to be,” he says.

Kim Dong-jin, vice chairman and CEO of Kia sibling Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd., told Ward’s last May a small car would be the second vehicle added at West Point, Kia’s first U.S. vehicle assembly site.

Fedorak declines to comment on that scenario, but Tom Loveless, vice president-sales for KMA, says he’d like to see the Optima midsize sedan or Spectra compact car produced there.

“I’ve seen the next-generation Optima, and it’s to die for,” he says.

The importance of the car to Kia’s lineup, given its position in the largest vehicle segment in the U.S. market, makes it a good choice for West Point, Loveless says.

“I know what (the) Spectra means to us, so from my vantage point I think there’s a tremendous upside in either of those products (the Optima or Spectra) just because of the volume opportunity and the ability to get (them) to market quickly from Georgia to U.S. dealers.”

The next-generation compact Spectra goes on sale next year in the U.S., and Loveless says Kia is counting on it to be a game-changer for the brand.

The new Spectra “will have all the styling appeal of the segment leaders,” he says. “It’ll have a 32-mpg (7.4-L/100 km) fuel economy; it will be priced very competitively compared to segment leaders; (and have) the best warranty in the segment. So overall, I think it will be a value that competes very favorably with the segment leaders.”

The Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic continue to dominate the U.S. compact segment, with sales of 307,071 units and 304,297, respectively, through October, Ward’s data shows.

Deliveries of Kia’s current-generation Spectra totaled 62,180 units in the first 10 months, a 1.2% increase from like-2007.

“There’s room for more key players, and we have a product offering that could be one of the leaders in the segment,” Loveless says of the new Spectra.

At launch, the Spectra will be available in 4- and new 2-door body styles. Kia has decided not to offer the hatchback Spectra5, believing the upcoming Soul C-segment cross/utility vehicle will fill the void for consumers.

The Cee’d C-segment hatch from Europe still is off the table for the U.S., Loveless says.

“My personal opinion is if there’s an opportunity (for another hatchback), we have the opportunity to do a Spectra5, as opposed to introducing another nameplate,” he says.

Fedorak says the trunk of the new Spectra sedan is ample enough for anyone missing the cargo hauling capability of a hatchback.

“It’s what I call a 2-body trunk; it’s just unbelievably huge,” he says. “And the lift-over and the opening is good. It overextends, so you can get stuff in. I don’t think (the demise of the Spectra5 is) going to be that big of an issue for us.”

Fedorak also confirms Kia’s plans to introduce a hybrid-electric vehicle version of its Optima sedan in 2012.

He says the technology most likely will be similar to that employed by Hyundai in the Sonata HEV, due in 2010.

However, unlike Hyundai Motor America, Kia will not be retailing more fuel-efficient versions of existing vehicles. HMA next year plans to introduce “Blue” Accent and Elantra models that employ low-rolling resistance tires and revised engine calibrations, as well as reduced final-drive ratios, to improve fuel economy and lower emissions.

Kia plans to refresh all of its U.S. models over the next 18 months, with the newly introduced Borrego SUV the oldest model in the brand’s lineup when the launch cycle is finished.

The next-generation Amanti large sedan, due in 2010, arrives within that timeframe, Fedorak says. He is not sure if the car will share a platform with the Hyundai Genesis near-luxury sedan but says it is “more in the Genesis genre than the current Amanti is.”

One model not part of the new-model rollouts is a roadster, akin to Hyundai’s forthcoming model based on the Veloster concept.

“Last I heard, something like that was so far out (that Kia executives) just don’t know the viability of it,” Fedorak says. “There are sketches of it. They know how they want to do it. They know what platform they want to do it on. (But) they (ask), ‘In this market, do we need to do it?’”

Kia also is exploring bringing its Picanto A-car to the U.S.

“I think if it were to happen, it would happen with the next-generation Picanto, which is (due in) late 2010 as an ’11 model,” Loveless says.

With gas prices bound to climb again and many drivers, such as those here in Southern California, driving long distances to work, “it would make sense to do the (Picanto) program,” he adds. “It would be a traffic draw, too, for other products.”